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Mound balance key to Ridgewater

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sports Willmar,Minnesota 56201
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Mound balance key to Ridgewater
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

Pitching and fielding are the two keys to winning a baseball tournament. Hitting, as the tournament draws out, is a given. It's especially true in a four-day, double-elimination event like the MCAC state and region tournament Friday through Monday at Putz and Faber in St. Cloud.


Joel Barta, who is in his second year directing the Ridgewater College program, has groomed the Warriors' pitching staff for the long run. There's no ace, but there is a deep staff that should get good mileage.

It's what Barta hopes will land the Willmar team a spot in the NJCAA Division III Tournament in Tyler, Texas, later this month.

"We could have three or more wins this season, I expect, if we gave the ball (in a game) to more pitchers," said Barta, a North Dakota native who has been a college head coach in far north Wisconsin and south Texas. "But that would take innings from guys that we might need later."

Ryan Speltz (Rollingstone), Cody Conners (Thief River Falls), Chris Braaten (Sunburg) and Matt Christensen (Aitken) each have in 41 or 42 innings of work. Nathan Neitfeld (Paynesville) has in 33 innings and Bobby Ahrens (Kimball) has thrown 17 innings. Cody Johnson has been used as the team's closer.

The Warriors open the state tournament Friday against Mesabi Range. Last year the Norsemen, from Virginia, knocked Barta's team out of the tournament.

The new coach had taken over in August 2008, succeeding Dwight Kotila.

All but one of Kotila's first-year players fled to other colleges for their second year. Barta had to build from scratch, drawing from students already on campus. Somehow, the team managed a winning record and got to state in 2009 where they went 0-2.

Just a year later with six second-year players and the rest freshmen, the Warriors are 28-12 and good enough to earn the No. 2 seed in the nine team state and Region 13 tournament.

Asked about the team's strengths, other than pitching, Barta replied that the lineup has done a good job adjusting to the opponent's pitching the second and third time through. And he added that the fielding has improved with playing time.

Barta has done his best to load up the non-division schedule with good competition, including games with Iowa teams.

On the fly

n Cardinal track and field senior Mary Erickson had a season-best discus throw on Saturday at the Sauk Rapids Invite of 117 feet to win the event. She remains unbeaten this spring. She threw 116-4 at the state meet last June to finish 10th, just three inches short of medaling.

n Marco Vazquez and Matt Hallstrom were a top Cardinals' doubles team as freshmen and later played one- and two-singles. This spring the college sophomores both played major roles on their respective university teams. Vazquez played 2-singles the first half of the season and No. 1 the second half for Minnesota State, Mankato and was 3-13; paired with Chris Weber, a senior from Waseca, the pair went 4-12 at 1-doubles. Hallstrom was 5-9 playing at either 5- or 6-singles for Bethel University. Their former Cardinal teammate, James Neis, played sparingly for St. Cloud State as a freshman this term.

n Callie Nelsen finished fifth all-time in career pitching victories at Gustavus Adolphus College with a four-year record 39-8. That ranks her first all-time in career winning percentage at .829. Her career strikeout total is 230.

n Ridgewater College softball coach Todd Thorstad said Emily Roelike, a freshman shortstop out of Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa, has the "best range" of any player he's coached in his 10 seasons. "She has the total defensive package including arm strength and accuracy," said Thorstad. "Offensively, she has great speed on the bases, can hit for power or average and is a good bunter." Roelike finished the regular season batting .511 (second in the MCAC South Division) with 67 hits (first) and 28 steals (2nd). She also scored 68 runs.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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